I got this film out of the 1-Euro-bargain-bin. And that is pretty much where it belongs.
Vampire Dog was hard to sit through. Admittedly, that’s the case with many children’s films, but this film had such an overwhelming “made-for-TV” feel to it (and I am talking sub-Disney-channel quality here) that I was squirming frequently.
I think nearly every children’s film has one or more messages it wants to get across to the children. The difference lies in the way these messages are transported. In this field, Vampire Dog suffers from an extreme lack of subtlety. “Sledge-hammer” is a word that frequently popped into my mind while watching this film.
“Lack of subtlety” also fits the use of the score music in those “pivotal” scenes; while in general, the score is not too bad.
Talking of messages…… “put on cool and fashionable clothes so that other kids will like you” seems a highly dubious advice, supporting shallowness instead of debunking it.
But first things first: Following a rather boring by-the-numbers exposition introducing the dog (“Fang”), we meet Ace and his mother as they are moving into a new home and are confronted with a new school: “Lugosi Public School” in “Lugosi County” – nice touch.
Ace’s mother, a teacher at his school, is played by Jodi Sadowsky. And while she is a good casting-choice in terms of type (warm-hearted; motherly), I found her performance television-y. That said, hers was one of the better performances in this film!
There are two important supporting characters in this film who are completely destroyed by over-acting: the school’s principal, and a crazy lady scientist by the name of Dr Warhol. Mind you, in both cases this is clearly the director’s choice, and no proof of lack of talent and/or judgement by the actors. It is also a tonal problem, as some of the over-acting seems to be meant to create humour, but this kind of humour is only funny for children much younger than those at whom the film’s central plot-line (Ace being the “new kid” in school) is aimed. In other words: the director seemingly does not know his audience.
Dr Warhol’s poor assistant is actually written in a funny and convincing way. He is played by Ron Pederson, who seems very talented and who hopefully will get roles in more thankful productions than this in the future.
The two central kid characters are also played by talented actors (Collin MacKechnie and Julia Sarah Stone) and that saves the film a little as far as the acting department is concerned.
The many plot-lines of this film involve a music competition that has to be won in order to save the school; many variations of bullying at school; and Dr Warhol trying to abduct Ace’s new dog.
Apart form the overacting, Dr Warhol’s character is also written in an unconvincing and unfitting manner. The way she knows about “the legend” (no explanation given); by complete coincidence stumbles about an internet video that allegedly confirms the legend (it does nothing of the kind); and orders her assistant to “get that dog” (whose looks AND whereabouts should be entirely unknown to them) – all this points to very sloppy “it’s-only-a-kids’-film” writing. The end goal here, of course, is to create a basic 101 Dalmatians constellation, with Dr Warhol as Cruella de Vil.
The same complete lack of logic is applied when Dr Warhol instinctively “knows” where Ace and Fang are going to be next; or when she “coincidentally” spots a flyer for the music competition that just “happens” to be lying in the middle of the principal’s desk, immediately singles it out as important (how?) AND asks if this has any influence on the school’s future (why?). Again, these are actions and reactions that can only come from a character who has read the script. And that is the worst kind of writing error possible.
So, while the script has some very funny lines of dialogue, the whole thing is riddled with plot-holes and logical errors. There is no convincing character development (not that I expected that much), and some characters are not even convincing if you leave questions of development or motivation aside.
Now, let’s get to the dog: a vampire dog – why? Nobody knows, probably not even the writer. What the premise really asked for was a dog with certain super powers. Mixing up super powers with magic power, writer Tracy McMenemy chose to go for the supernatural, and because she decided that the dog has to be 600 years old (possibly to fit the crazy scientist plot-line), that sort of left the field open for ghost dog or vampire dog, I assume. Why she went for vampire, we will never know – most likely only because vampires have been so fashionable in recent years. But there is no logical need for this dog to be a vampire. More importantly, he has no real vampiric properties. His abilities, as I pointed out, are basically that of a generic canine comic book super hero.
We are told he does not like the sun, but he is apparently not afflicted too much by it. He also sleeps in a coffin (sometimes!), but none of this is intrinsic to the character but merely an afterthought to fit the film title. Another of these afterthoughts is the fact that Fang, the vampire dog, cannot be seen in photographs. Yet the director and the editor did not seem too bothered by the fact that Fang very clearly has a reflection both in his water bowl as well as in the oven door.
The worst part of this is that the film-makers decided that this children’s film could not cope with a bloodsucking vampire. It could, actually, as the film’s central plot is clearly aimed at children aged 10 to 13, but the producers likely wanted to keep it nice and clean so that parents would also drag younger siblings into the cinema – remember, for some people creative decisions are all about the money. So instead of blood, Fang’s craving is for jelly. We even get a “scientific” explanation for that; but why has it to be red jelly, specifically? Who knows? And who cares? That whole jelly thing reduces the presumed vampire background to dust (like a staked vampire, get it?, nudge, nudge); and it highlights the fact that all the other vampire tropes in this film (the “afterthoughts” listed above) are ridiculous and pointless.
And why Fang keeps finding red jelly everywhere, is beyond me. As if it were the most natural thing in the world that everyone constantly kept red jelly round their house for no good reason.
By the way, remember Dr Warhol, the character who knows all sorts of things she cannot possibly know unless she has already seen the very film she is supposed to be a character in? Well, turns out she “simply knows” that Fang needs red jelly (isn’t that bloody convenient? Get it? “bloody”, nudge, nudge) and tries to use it against him.
Positive things about this vampiric canine hero? When he talks, the VFX are done very well; remember how awkward that sort of thing used to look only 10, 15 years ago? And he has most of the funny lines and the delivery and timing (courtesy of Norm MacDonald) are usually very good.
The film has some good elements to it. But overall it feels like a number of ideas for several different films have been thrown together into one big mess. Apart from the superfluous and wholly unconvincing vampire elements and the gross over-acting by some cast-members, you cannot really file this film in the “very bad” category. And yet, I would not recommend it to anybody, because there are just too many kid’s films out there that are so much better.
The current imdb-rating for Vampire Dog is 4.4. Sort of fitting, since on the one hand it barely feels like a 4 out of 10, but on the other hand you are tempted to give it a 5 for effort.